Events & Media

Bren Visiting Lecturer Earns Distinguished Teaching Award

Last month, Bren School visiting lecturer Janet Kayfetz received the UCSB Distinguished Teaching Award for 2012-2013. The award will be presented during a meeting of the UCSB Faculty Senate on May 7.

Dr. Kayfetz teaches Writing Skills for Environmental Professionals (ESM 437) at the Bren School in fall quarter and the Great Presentations Workshop in winter quarter. She also supports Bren MESM students in developing and polishing their master's project final presentations, and Bren PhD students as they prepare for their dissertation defenses.

A member of the Computer Sciences faculty since 2003, Dr. Kayfetz is an applied linguist who has taught academic writing and communication skills for more than 25 years and formerly served as director of the ESL Program at UCSB.

In training people to communicate more effectively, she says, “I consider all of the dynamic variables that have an impact on communicative effect, including audience, the content, the specific context where the language will be used, and the goals of the writing or the presentation.”

She urges students to constantly ask themselves, “With respect to my content or story, how can I best position myself to a particular audience to achieve my purpose within the constraints of the genre or mode I’m using?”

In addition to the coursework she teaches at Bren, Dr. Kayfetz also works with each group of master’s students a few weeks before the annual public master’s project event, providing feedback that forces the students to examine and evaluate every element of their presentations.

“It’s about them defending the choices they make,” she says. “The story they tell about their project should be crystal clear and meaningful from the perspective of the audience. They need to ask if a slide is advancing the story and helping the audience to understand. They need to get at the ‘why’ of the project from both the macro and micro levels: why was the project important, and why does each element in the presentation matter?”

Appropriately, Dr. Kayfetz was told about the award while she was teaching a Great Presentations class attended by 16 Computer Science students and one Bren master’s student, Claire Phillips (2013).

“[Computer Science professor] Tim Sherwood and [business officer] Greta Carl-Halle walked in carrying two boxes of donuts and wearing big smiles and said they were there to make an official announcement.”

Receiving the award, she explains, is an honor that both excited and humbled her.

“My life’s work is to make a contribution to students who will go out into the world and do great things, so to be nominated by a student is the highest honor to me. You feel that what you’ve worked at so hard and with such commitment and honesty had significant and relevant impact.”

But many more than one person appreciate Dr. Kayfetz’s work. She has earned a perfect “1” in student evaluations, and her class is routinely described by students in Computer Science and at the Bren School as the best course they have ever taken.

The Distinguished Teaching Award nomination process is complicated and requires nominees to provide numerous documents, including a statement of teaching philosophy and letters of recommendation. Computer Science Department students nominated Dr. Kayfetz initially; the CS Department then teamed with the Bren School to submit a joint packet, which included words from Bren School dean, Steve Gaines.

“Dr. Kayfetz effectively engages our students at many levels, from those who are talented communicators to those who are learning English as a second language,” he wrote. “She presents material in her courses and workshops in a practical, interesting and professional way…and motivates our students to work hard to practice and improve their communication skills. Our students become more effective communicators and distinguish themselves in the job market because of the opportunities they have to work with Dr. Kayfetz on writing and presentation.”

Congratulations to Dr. Kayfetz for her outstanding contributions – and to future Bren students who will benefit from them going forward.